Festive Chocolate Balls

One of my favourite treats at Christmas time is the good old Rum Ball.  Despite their deliciousness, I do know that they are jam packed with calories and it is very hard to stop at just one.  The concept of ‘balls’ have become very popular over the last few years and it is very common to see them adorning the glass display cabinets of many a cafe.  The thing is, although the ingredients in these so called healthy and natural treats, may look good on paper they still contain a bunch of calories. Let’s face it. It’s hard to stop at one isn’t it? This is my take on the traditional Rum Ball – except that I prefer Marsala. These guys are so quick and easy and make the perfect Festive gift.

Festive Chocolate Balls


9 Medjool dates 3 tablespoons Marsala

2 tablespoons cacao powder

2 tablespoons desiccated coconut

handful raw hazelnuts

1 tablespoon chia seeds



Throw ingredients into a food processor and blitz for a few minutes until nicely combined. Make tablespoons of the mixture into balls and enjoy.

Purple Performance


“Success is a journey not the destination.” Arthur Ashe

I have to declare (proudly) that I will be waving every single purple item I have this coming Saturday when the Fremantle Dockers meet Hawthorn in the AFL Grand Final in Melbourne, Australia.  I spent six years at the Fremantle Football club as their Sports Dietitian looking after the players nutrition needs and as much as I loved that job, by golly it was a hard slog at times with just a few wins here and there. Nineteen years down the track I fully believe that each and every member of staff and every player  that I worked alongside in those tough years, has contributed to where the team is today. So, this week with a Grand Final trophy in sight my mind keeps wandering to how they are preparing for their epic battle ahead. I know they will be ticking all the boxes to give themselves the best chance because they are elite athletes.

You don’t have to be an elite athlete to tick all the boxes when exercising and training.  All you need is a desire to do your own personal best and what you eat is a key ingredient. Head on over to a blog post I recently wrote for N4 Food and Health and check whether you ticking all the fuel boxes. Just like the purple ones are doing right now.  Go Dockers!!

Image courtesy of Will Russell/AFL Media

Food Care Factor

Fresh off the vine
Fresh off the vine

One look inside a shopping trolley will show you how varied our food tastes are.  One trolley might be full of fruit and vegetables and another might be groaning under the weight of processed items such as snack foods, confectionery and the like. There are a number of factors at play when we choose food, most of which we are completely unaware.

Income – people of lower socioeconomic status are more likely to choose processed foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt and are at greater risk of being overweight. Age – younger age groups choose more processed and junk food, whereas older age groups purchase less processed food and tend to make healthier choices. Education – as your level of education increases so does the likelihood of choosing healthy food. Lower levels of education affect food choice negatively across all food groups. Time – in today’s fast paced world, we are all impacted by time crunch, which can often negatively affect food choice.  With more working parents than ever, convenience foods are playing a significant role in our diets and our fat, sugar and salt intakes increase accordingly. History – what did your parents do? If you were raised on a healthy diet, it is more likely that you will continue to do this as an adult.

I recently interviewed Maggie Beer, Cook, Author and Gourmet Food Producer and she is a passionate advocate of choosing and preparing food that is fresh, healthy, sustainable and home grown where possible. The beauty of this philosophy is that these types of foods are usually whole foods. Whole foods are those that are minimally processed and include wholegrain cereals and breads, vegetables, legumes and soy foods, nuts and seeds, fruit, dairy and lean meat, chicken and fish.

Protecting your health

Highly processed foods usually bring a couple of friends with them in the form of refined sugar, fat and salt which are not naturally present in the ingredients before they are processed. A regular and excess intake of these leads to weight gain and increases the risk of every lifestyle disease.

Grow your own

Whether you have as little space as a balcony in an apartment, a suburban backyard or acreage, the principles and basic needs of growing vegetables remain the same with only minor variations. Planting tomatoes in a pot, growing herbs on a windowsill or integrating silver beet amongst a flowerbed are just a few ideas to get you started. The taste of homegrown food is sensational and is a great way to educate kids on where real food comes from and how it grows.

Make it yourself

Wherever possible, use fresh produce and cook it from scratch. For example, homemade tomato pasta sauce can be made with much less salt and more taste than commercial varieties. It might seem convenient to buy prepared custard but making your own is significantly less expensive, contains less sugar and takes only three minutes to prepare in the microwave. If you have children make sure you involve them in the cooking to develop essential skills for their well-being as an adult.

Save your wallet

Whole foods are generally associated with plainer packaging and minimal intervention whereas the opposite is true of processed foods.  Looking at supermarket shelves, it often seems like a competition to see who can have the biggest, brightest packaging with the most persuasive marketing – all of which you pay a premium for.

Road Miles

While we are fortunate that many foods are now available year round, this is only possible because the food is imported. There is a distinct disadvantage in purchasing out-of-season produce, as it is usually more expensive due to storage and transportation across long distances. Buying produce locally is cheaper, in-season and more likely to be fresher and of higher quality.

Helping the environment

Being less processed, the production of whole foods requires less energy. Packaging is often minimal (think fruit and vegetables) and contributes less to landfill. In-season produce grown locally has travelled less distance, resulting in less greenhouse gas emissions.  Check out your local weekend growers market for a fantastic range of fresh food that hasn’t travelled far to get there at affordable prices.

The $2 shop

When we last spoke I was having a good rant about fast food conglomerates and their ethics in sales practices when offering unhealthy but cheap food to the masses.  And I mean masses.  675 000 vouchers for a Whopper and fries deal from Hungry Jacks sold in less than 48 hours. Since then I have been beavering away at unearthing meals that cost $2.00 or less as I was confident that it can be done by us all, in fact you may already be doing it and just don’t know. Continue reading “The $2 shop”

Waste Not, Want Not

Last year when I was away for six weeks, some unwanted guests moved in. They invited all their friends and took up residence in my pantry. There were no apologies for gate crashing and every time I opened up the door I was assailed by a flock of moths, if there is such a thing. So began my hand to hand combat with these devious winged creatures which continued for 6 months . I would tally up the body count each day with glee, but they are very stealthy and I knew they were hiding in all the dark recesses of the cupboard and burrowing into the food.  I have since discovered the secret weapon, Hovex Pantry Moth Trap, which for now has solved the problem. The amount of food that I have had to dispose of makes me really cross because these moths are already in our food when we buy it.  I admit they are very clever but not so clever that they can burrow through sealed Tupperware containers. It has really got me thinking about the growing issue of food wastage in Australia and globally. In Australia alone we kick 4 million tonnes of wasted food to the kerb every year, which equates to 178kg per person every 12 months. Or put another way we waste $7.8 million in food each year. Of course on top of that there is the greenhouse gas and CO2 emissions during manufacture and in landfill.  There  is also huge water and other resource wastage in producing food that is not eaten. When I was growing up I remember my parents encouraging myself and my siblings to eat all of our food as there were many people in the people in the world who were not quite as lucky as we were.  I know now as an adult that although that is very true, the solution to the global hunger crisis is not quite as simplistic as donating food to those who need it. But I do know that the impact of wasting food is far reaching and so much bigger than physically throwing food in the bin. I don’t usually do New Years resolutions but this year I decided to start the year with a different food challenge. I am not an impulse buyer but I often buy extra food when doing my grocery shopping ‘just in case’ I might need it. Sound familiar? Most of this food is tinned or of the long life variety but the end result is an overflowing pantry and freezer. So…. In the first week of January I started the challenge of only preparing meals based on the staple items that I already had, just like the Country Women’s Association tells you to.   Taste.com has been a good friend to me too and with thousands of recipes to choose from, all you need is what is already in your cupboard. Of course I still need to buy fresh fruit and vegetables and dairy but six weeks later I am still going strong. Plus we invested in a worm farm to recycle our fruit and vegetable scraps, paper and teabags and our food wastage has dramatically reduced. Have you considered how to reduce your own or your households food wastage? Maybe you could try: 1. Doing a pantry challenge – start using all the food items you already have and you will be surprised at what you can whiz up even when you think the cupboard is bare 2. Investing in a worm farm – they don’t take up much room, are very low maintenance and very kindly recycle all sorts of scraps. Many local councils conduct educational workshops and subsidize the purchase of worm farms. 3. Devising a weekly menu with your housemates or family and shop to it – this prevents excess buying and saves you money. Try online shopping too, it eliminates impulse buying because there are no visuals to tempt you and saves you money.  All the major supermarkets have it available now and deliver from 6am to 9pm seven days per week. 4. Buying smaller sizes of products to avoid waste. It might be cheaper to buy the three litre milk on special but it’s not cost or environmentally effective when you have to throw out the remaining 2 litres that you can’t get through. 5. Buying fresh fruit and vegetables twice every week instead of one big shop – this will ensure you get the freshest produce possible without throwing out the rotting leftovers at the end of the week.  Try frozen fruit and vegetables too for no waste, they are picked at their best and this eliminates wilting and bruising resulting in a product that ticks all the boxes nutritionally. If there is only one or two of you in the house, look out for the ‘baby’ varieties of vegetables as they are much smaller and suited for smaller portions. 6. Investing in a decent sized freezer so that you can freeze extra portions of meals for lunches or for those nights when cooking feels akin to climbing Mt Everest. 7. When buying a loaf of bread, freeze what you don’t use for sandwiches that taste just as fresh when thawed, use for toast, bread and butter custard (try jam instead of butter) or throw it in the food processor for breadcrumbs. 8. Serving smaller portions – research shows that eating less than we require increases our longevity and improves our health outcomes. With 61% of Australians being overweight or obese, measuring and our decreasing portion sizes is essential. 9.  Considering whether you need the bread plus the whole three courses when eating out? How about ordering an entree size meal instead a main – eyes are often much bigger than stomachs. 10. And last but certainly not least, store packaged or loose dry food in sealed containers to avoid the invasion of the dreaded pantry moth. Keep an eye on your dark chocolate and teabags because these bugs love getting high on antioxidants. Have you got a great tip to assist in reducing the global issue of food wastage?  

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas….

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…twelve devils fighting…eleven emus kicking, ten wombats sleeping, nine crocs a weeping, eight flies a feasting, seven possums playing, six sharks a swimming, five kan-ga-roos, four cuddling koalas, three little penguins, two pink galahs and a kookaburra up a gum tree.

Merry Christmas to you all!  We made it.  Given that twelve Tasmanian Devils are fighting today, I am not suggesting that you are devils but there may be some pretty crazy eating behaviour today.  I may even be involved myself.  I found this greeting card recently by British company ‘Make Do’ that I thought summed up today perfectly.

Enjoy this happy day with your loved ones.

Christmas Day

On the Eighth Day….

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me…eight flies a feasting…seven possums playing, six sharks a swimming, five kan-ga-roos, four cuddling koalas, three little penguins, two pink galahs and a kookaburra up a gum tree. Aren’t flies just the most fantastic aspect of Australian life?  The perceptive amongst you may detect a hint of sarcasm because in real life they truly do drive you mad. Not only are they are a source of annoyance but they are also a seething mass of germs.  With all the mountains of food that we are preparing and eating in the lead-up to the BIG DAY it is easy to get busy and forget about storing our food correctly. So to avoid an unhappy stomach and poisoning all of your guests in the process, don’t leave food uncovered on the bench or table, put it straight in the fridge. And don’t forget to do the same thing on Christmas Day before doing your whale impression on the carpet, so that Sitting Number 2 is fresh and healthy.

Gladiators on water

It’s difficult to go to Venice without experiencing a gondola ride isn’t it? I have actually been on one before but not with our three children (and with good reason). And so began the search up and down steps, and in and out of the rabbit warren of streets that makes this floating city unique. Finally we spy a very glossy black and gold number that frankly looked too good for the likes of us (and worth 35 000 Euros) but the gondolier was spruiking his goods nearby and happily his price was good, so off we sailed, or perhaps rowed with Rudi.  After ensuring that everyone was strapped down, I mean in, I couldn’t help but notice that Rudi was not like the other gondoliers I had seen around Venice. Rudi had rippling muscles. He also reminded me of a machine gun, speaking in fast, rapid bursts without seeming to breathe and after a mini-interrogation I discovered that this man had been rowing gondoliers since the age of four and was in fact an elite athlete. Naturally my curiosity was piqued and with further probing he explained that he trained for 90 minutes each day outside of his daily rowing and no, he didn’t eat anything out of the ordinary and just ate three meals each day.  I knew Rudi wasn’t telling me the whole story as language was no small barrier so as soon as I was able I did the Google.

The Vignottini. To me this name has the ring of mafia about it and why not as we are in the perfect place for it. But no, my new friend Rudi is one half of a fearsome duo with his cousin Igor that has been competing in gondola racing around the canals of Venice for the last 20 years. They are feared and revered and are firmly sewn into the fabric of the history surrounding professional gondolier racing. The most important Venetian race of the season is the Regatta Storica, through the Grand Canal and winning this event has been likened to winning the Ironman Triathlon or the Tour de France or both. Not sure whether this is possible but the Italians are very dramatic.  To win this regatta five years in a row is almost an impossible feat and a couple of years ago, the two arch rivals, The Vignottini and another famous rowing duo, Ivo Redolfi-Tezzat and Giampaulo D’Este were both competing for this honour. In a major upset The Vignottini triumphed and wrote themselves into the history books. Yep, that was our gondolier.

In his book, The Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell suggests that ten thousand hours of practice is required to achieve the level of mastery associated with being a world class expert – in anything. Sure, there needs to be talent and opportunity but this aside, the 10 000 hours still stands. Talent and genetics are clearly there for Rudi, rowing a gondola since the age of 4, living on the canals and rowing for a living all provide opportunity and way more than 10 000 hours, paving the way to becoming a world class expert and performer. What are you doing your 10 000 hours in?

Back to food. I often advise people to do a large food shopping trip to assist in time management, less impulse buying and organisation and I do the same thing when at home. Italy however is making me think. I love the fact that there are little fresh produce stores on every corner which allows me to buy whatever we feel like on the day and there is so much less wastage. How do you do your shopping?

Strange things sometimes turn up in menu’s and our lunch in Verona, home of Romeo and Juliet was no exception. There were many choices to make but two in particular caught my eye. ‘Flayed cavallo’ (horse) and Equina Pizza, with horse once again being the main ingredient. I think ‘flayed’ was meant to be ‘fryed” but maybe not, it could go both ways. Yes, I know that it’s just another source of meat and one that is quite popular here in Italy but I can’t get past Mr Ed.   

One half of the Vignottini

Rapallo, Rapallo let down your hair

The second week of my Italian insights trip finds me in Rapallo, a town on the Ligurian coast considered to be part of the Italian Riviera.  Given that we are not celebrities, there was no swanning around Riviera style but it has given me some time to reflect on the way of life in Italy and whether it enhances personal peak performance.

It is probably best to get the negative aspects out of the way first just so we can concentrate on the positive features. I am instinctively going to hold my breath while saying that there is an excellent chance I have second hand smoked my way through a packet of cigarettes since I have been here.  So many people smoke that it would be easier to count those who didn’t in a packed out San Marco Square in Venice ( a LOT of people can jam in there).  Italy is currently sitting at  fourth in the Top 10 countries with the highest rates of lung cancer and as countries number 2, 3 and 4 differ only by  a whisker, they are up there with the leaders.  Hungary is at the top of the ladder but I would say that this is not a game many would want to win.  It certainly makes one appreciate the anti-smoking laws that Australia has in place, particularly where food is involved.

In other areas, the Italians have got things sewn up.  What’s not to like about the daily siesta for example? Research has quite clearly found that adequate sleep and rest is essential to our wellbeing and longevity of life.  The dedication to the siesta is absolute and the shops here are literally shut down somewhere between 12 and 1pm and even if part of  a customers body happened to be over the threshold of the shopfront, it would be trapped in the roller door that comes down religiously, as they wait for no-one. Retailers don’t open again until 3.30-4.00pm allowing staff to go home and rest or do whatever they fancy. I like.

Exercise is an essential part of your peak daily performance and from what I have seen so far, lots of Italians walk or cycle as the main mode of transport. Even the Italian ladies perch themselves on their biciclette complete with skirt, stockings and heels.  And although it seemed a little inconvenient at the time, I know that walking up and down to our mill house in Rapallo like little mules did us the world of good.

And of course, the Italian food.  In many respects it seems like food from the god’s or is it for the god’s?  Whichever way it goes, the Mediterranean diet has a lot going for it.  Red wine, olive oil, tomatoes full of lycopene and lots of fresh fruit and vegetables do the trick. Eating too much bread can be an issue though as every time you sit down at a ristorante, a basket of bread and breadsticks appear magically. Add that to a pasta or pizza meal and we are talking carbo-loading on a daily basis without the 10 hours of exercise that should go with it. Carbohydrates seem to have an additive effect too, the more I eat, the more I eat.  Although bread is delicious here, I am yet to sight any that is not white and is therefore low in fibre.  However, carbohydrates do supply energy and your brain really doesn’t function without it, something you may notice at around 3pm when you feel like having a lie down.  And no, there is no truth in the fairytale that these foods shouldn’t be eaten after 3 or 5 or 8pm, or whatever time is plucked from the sky. Just make sure that you watch portion sizes and choose high fibre low glycemic carbohydrates.

Lets not forget the role of happiness in enhancing performance.  This can be found everywhere here in the form of gelato.  There is no doubt it is my responsibilty and my job to road test flavours and there are so many that I do need to try a new one each time.  The good news is that gelato contains slightly less fat (4-8%) than regular ice-cream (around 10%) but it does have a little more sugar.  Some of the fruit flavours like fragola (strawberry) and limone (lemon) are fat-free which further adds to my happiness.

And lastly, forget Italian leather and handbags as a girls best friend.  Everyone and I mean everyone, has a dog here.  They don’t sit at home and pine for their owners either, these pampered dogs go everywhere.  They travel by train in special doggy bags, get some wind through their fur sitting in baskets at the front of bikes, walk the streets, dine at the best restaurants and even become a handbag accessory.  So what  does this have to do with performance you ask?  Research has shown that pet owners benefit physically and psychologically from their furry friends.  Benefits shown include decreased rate of depression, lowered blood lipid and cholesterol levels, less social isolation and increased fitness. 

Lets see what Venice has to offer.

Super nonna bicicletta power

Surf ‘N Turf

5 sleeps to go.  I know that many people are counting down to the 2010 Rebel Sport Perth City to Surf and the options are many.  You can choose from the running menu of 4km, 12km, Half Marathon (21.1km) or the the Marathon (42.2km). If you are participating in this event, now would be a good time to start thinking about what petrol you are going to use.   Continue reading “Surf ‘N Turf”